Stanford University is committed to integrity and trustworthiness in all of its activities and operations. We were profoundly shocked, and continue to be deeply pained, by the events around the federal investigation of Operation Varsity Blues, and we have worked vigorously to strengthen our policies and processes against attempted acts of fraud in the future. However, Stanford believes the Netflix film Operation Varsity Blues provides an inaccurate depiction of Stanford regarding these matters. The facts are as follows:
At Stanford one coach, the former head sailing coach, pleaded guilty in 2019 to felony charges that he accepted financial contributions to the Stanford sailing program in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford, neither of whom was admitted. This was part of a federal investigation of fraud committed on a national basis by college consultant Rick Singer.
When news of Operation Varsity Blues first broke in 2019, Stanford immediately took action to review and strengthen its policies and processes to prevent such fraud from happening again. Those actions included verifying that Stanford had received no other contributions from Singer’s foundation, implementing a second-level review process to confirm the athletic credentials of all recruited student-athletes, and developing enhanced controls in the university’s gift acceptance process.
An external review found no evidence of fraud by any employee at Stanford other than the former head sailing coach. The university commissioned this external review, undertaken by the international law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. The firm interviewed more than 55 people and obtained and reviewed more than 35,000 records as part of its review. The external review recommended additional steps to strengthen university policies and processes, beyond those the university had already undertaken. All of those recommendations have been implemented.
Contrary to the Netflix film’s narrative, Stanford’s athletic director did not know Singer and never met or spoke with him. The film’s suggestion that the former head sailing coach spoke to the athletic director or any senior athletics official about attempts to influence admissions decisions through donations to the Athletic Department also is false.
The film also leaves the erroneous impression, until one of the final screens, that Stanford kept the $770,000 that came to the Athletic Department from Rick Singer’s foundation. Stanford made an immediate commitment to redirect those funds and sought guidance from the California Attorney General’s Office. That office advised that, given the nature of Singer’s scheme, the funds would best be redirected to an entity or entities supporting financially challenged high school students who are seeking financial support and enhanced preparation for college admission. The university then sought recommendations from an outside philanthropic consulting group on the distribution of funds within that guidance. The funds were redistributed in 2020 to 10 college access programs active in the Bay Area: Beyond 12, CollegeSpring, College Track, Peninsula Bridge, Destination College Advising Corps, Foundation for a College Education, uAspire, QuestBridge, OneGoal and Teen Success.
Finally, the film creates the opportunity for inaccurate impressions of the admissions process as practiced at Stanford. Every student admitted to Stanford must meet the university’s high academic standards. The admissions office conducts a holistic review of each applicant, focused on academic excellence, intellectual vitality, extracurricular activity and personal context. For students who have special talents, those talents are factored into the process. In the case of athletics, Stanford has a process through which coaches can identify the most promising athletic recruits, for the consideration of the admissions office in its review. But such talents, athletic or otherwise, by themselves never ensure admission to Stanford.
Stanford relies upon the honesty and trustworthiness of its employees. In the case of Operation Varsity Blues, the former head sailing coach exploited that reliance to deceive Stanford, its athletic program and its community. We have worked diligently to shore up university policies and processes in response to everything we have learned through this regrettable episode to prevent such fraud in the future. Additional detail is available on our website.
April 12, 2021
Stanford information on college admissions case